Music by Haydn, Schubert, Dutilleux: Stream available through May 10
By Peter Alexander April 7 at 12:30 p.m.
The CU-based Takács Quartet has played a series of concerts in Grusin Hall this year, but you can be forgiven if you missed them. They were played without an audience, and most of the live streams were available only to season ticket holders.
The final concert of ’20-21, at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11, will again be in an empty hall, but tickets for the stream are available to the general public. The performance will be streamed live at 4 p.m., and the stream will remain available through Monday, May 10.
Cellist and CU faculty member David Requiro will join the Takács for Schubert’s much loved Quintet in C major for Strings, D956. Other works on the program will be two quartets by Joseph Haydn—Op. 42 and Op. 103, both in D minor—and the atmospheric Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) by 20th-century French composer Henri Dutilleux.
András Fejér, the quartet’s cellist, has been with the Takács since it was founded in 1975. He has played everything on the program many times, but he never gets tired of his job. “The literature is so incredibly rich!” he says. “One can argue and counter argue on any page of any of the pieces for lifetime. It’s a joy to listen to (other players’) ideas.”
Take for example the two Haydn quartets that will open the program. “With Haydn, whenever we start learning and studying you are just swept away by his generosity of ideas—surprising key changes, character changes and trickery,” he says.
Fejér believes the “trickery,” for which Haydn is well known, was done for the composer to entertain his audience—and himself. “If you spend 40 years in a palace on the Austro-Hungarian border, however generous your patron is, you need to care about your own entertainment,” he says.
Some of the fun also comes from Haydn’s contact with the local peasants, Fejér believes. “They were full of joy, they were full of rowdiness, probably some dancing, and we can find most of it on those pages. Hopefully you will see the enjoyment in our body language, and you will be transported into the 18th-century. It’s got such spice and an earthy, primal energy. Wonderful!”
Both Haydn quartets are unusual among the composer’s works. For one thing, they are both in D minor, at a time when few works were written in minor keys. Further, both are short works that do not belong to a larger set, as most Haydn quartets do. Op. 42 is in four short movements—less than 20 minutes all together.
One of the last pieces Haydn wrote, Op. 103 remains a fragment of two movements. Written in B-flat major and D minor, they are assumed to have been the second and third movements of a planned four-movement quartet, but even that is uncertain. Haydn was in poor health as he was writing, and was unable to finish a full quartet.
Like the Haydn Op. 103, Schubert’s Quintet in C major was the composer’s last piece of chamber music. It was completed about two months before Schubert’s death in Nov. 1828 but was not performed until 1850, and published three years after that.
Schubert added a second cello to the standard string quartet, which gives a great resonance and warmth of sound to the ensemble. This is especially true because the piece is in C major, and the two bottom string of the cello are C and G, tonic and dominant of the key. Fejér explains that “the open strings of the cello, C and G, resonate just by lightly touching the instrument. It just rolls out—wonderful!”
The Takács Quartet has performed the Schubert with Requiro in the past, including a performance at Lincoln Center. “We are just looking forward to (performing with) David Requiro,” Fejér says. “We already played the Quintet many times with him, and it was wonderful.”
Schubert’s String Quintet has become one of the most loved pieces of chamber music from the 19th century. Like many of Schubert’s last works, it has a warmth and benedictive quality that audiences have responded to. It is indicative of that quality, Fejér says, that “the most people I know ask for the Schubert Quintet slow movement for their own funeral.”
That is unlikely to be true for the final piece on the program, which comes from another world. Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night) is a highly atmospheric work from the late 20th century. The composer has been identified with the atonal 12-tone style of composition, although he notably rejected the more radical and intolerant aspects of musical modernism.
“The music is extremely atmospheric,” is how Fejér describes Ainsi la nuit. “Many composers were trying to give meaning for the noises of the night, and Dutilleux certainly tries it his own ways. As performers, we need to (bring out) the colors and character to give the audience some sense of within what cosmos are we moving about.
“There are clashes and supernovas and black matter and God knows what else, but the beauty and atmosphere keep recurring.”
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Takács Quartet, with David Requiro, cello
Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 42
Haydn: String Quartet in D minor, op. 103
Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit (Thus the night)
Schubert: String Quintet in C major, D956
Live stream at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 11; available through 11 p.m. Monday, May 10